An estimated five million people in the United States are living with Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular and often very fast heart rate.
AFib greatly increases the risk of strokes and is usually treated with blood thinners. But a new stroke prevention device is allowing some patients to get off blood thinners for good.
Marc Favors is a network security engineer. On his own time, he is a race car enthusiast on the track at Summit Point in West Virginia.
“The car is basically my therapy chamber,” Favors said. “It’s adrenaline inducing, it's just a great feeling.”
However, his days of speeding on the track came to a stop after he suffered a stroke and was put on blood thinners.
“There's an increased chance if there's an accident, if you experience any internal bleeding because of the accident, you could bleed out,” Favors said.
A medical condition that could happen in Favors’ case. He was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, the leading risk factor for stroke.
“When you're in Atrial Fibrillation, the upper chamber of the heart does not squeeze so well,” Dr. Sarfaz Durrani, a Cardiac Electrophysiologist at MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute, said. “There's a little pouch that sits on top; the blood can pool in that pouch and form a clot. A clot can get dislodged and go to your brain and that gives you a stroke.”
Patients, like Favors, are usually prescribed blood thinners to prevent arterial clots from forming. But they have significant side effects.
Now patients have a new alternative, a tiny device called the Watchman.
“It a permanent remedy to reduce your stroke risk from Atrial Fibrillation,” Durrani said.
To implant the WATCHMAN, doctors go in through a small cut in the patient's upper leg. Then a catheter is inserted into the left upper chamber of the heart. At that point, the tiny WATCHMAN is deployed permanently sealing off the left atrial appendage.
“We use a blood thinner for about 6-weeks after that. And after that there's no longer a need for long-term blood thinners because it prevents that clot from coming out of the appendage,” Durrani said.
The procedure can take up to two hours. Favors went home the next day.
This summer Favors will be back in the driver's seat at Summit Point and he's already back on the tennis court without the fear of a stroke hanging over his head.